Taoism: Action Versus Inaction


The Star Trek The Next Generation episode: "Booby Trap" shows a perfect
example of Taoist thought. The crew of the Enterprise is always taking some
action in order to achieve a specific goal. This episode shows that through
inaction you can sometimes achieve far more than you could through action. The
mind of the physical senses cannot grasp the concepts of the unnameable. The
crew of the Enterprise learn a valuable lesson on the nature of decision making
and how to do without doing anything.
The Enterprise is caught in an ancient trap that uses the starships own
power supply to destroy its occupants. The answer to the trap is to shut down
the engines; by generating no power the trap is overcome. Taoism is a philosophy
based on inaction: "Therefore the Master acts without doing anything and teaches
without saying anything."(Tao Te Ching pg. 2)
When the true nature of the trap is revealed, Ryker states "If we resist
we die. If we don\'t resist we die." Neither action nor inaction was the key to
salvation. Ryker\'s statement was based on a physical world; the Tao goes beyond
action or inaction of a physical sense. The Tao Te Ching states, "the Master
does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone."(pg. 38) The Master does not rely on
the world of the senses to decide her action.
Everything the crew of the enterprise tried to do was based on
overpowering the trap. "More energy, faster adjustments. But that\'s exactly what
we can\'t do because that\'s what we\'re supposed to do."(Star Trek La Forge) All
of the attempts to overcome the trap were based on action, trying to do
something about the problem. The Tao teaches us to "Stop thinking and end your
problems." The answer to all things surrounds us; but cannot be grasped by the
physical senses. The trap was symbolic of life; no action will bring the desired
end; why worry about what we do or do not do? The end will always be the same.
Taoism goes beyond the functions of sensual perception. The mind without
the senses is at one with all things. Geordi La Forge states that "the answer
is our own computer...the mind is the best piece of engineering we\'ll ever
need." Geordi La Forge grasped the idea that the mind or Zen is infinitely
greater than any physical object. This revelation allows Geordi to look at the
trap through different eyes and thus find a solution.
One of the ideas for escaping the trap was to turn control of the ship
over to the computer. The Tao tells us to "stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course." (pg. 19) Piccard and Ryker, who have
spent their lives chasing after things of a physical nature, worked against the
Tao. Their inability to relinquish control of the ship and "let all thing take
their course"(pg19) showed that they could not embrace the meaning of the Tao.
Their faith rested only in what they could see.
At the end of the episode La Forge says "I always thought that
technology could solve almost any problem. It enhances the quality of our lives.
Lets us travel across the galaxy. Even gave me my vision; but sometimes you just
have to turn it all off." Geordi had finally embraced the idea that his actions
in this world are useless. His vision, his technology, are all just
manifestations of perception. Truth lies far beyond what can be seen or felt,
but it can be found deep within by casting aside all we have learned and
grasping the "unnameable."

MLA Documentation

"Booby Trap." Star Trek The Next Generation Dir. Gabrielle Beaumont.
Paramount, 1989.

Tzu, Lao. Tao Te Ching Translated by Stephen Mitchell Bantam books 1986

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